Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Coexistence and Conflict: Hindu Muslim Relations in India

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

Hindu-Muslim tension in India today. (thebigdurian/Flickr)

QUESTION

Hello. I was born in Bangladesh but raised in the United States. Actually I have not visited South Asia in many years, but I would imagine that this is a relatively new construct…how much would you say, if at all, are Hindu extremists associating themselves with this “War on Terror”?

SHABANA AZMI

Well, every single incident of violence that happens is immediately ascribed to the Islamic terrorists…and that is coming from Pakistan. That atmosphere has been whipped up and that is very dangerous, because when it is indiscriminately applied it can push the Muslim into being somebody who is not nationalist and has an identity that belongs to Pakistan. Pakistan actually hurts the Muslim cause over and over again, and so it puts us in a very peculiar kind of situation. I think the trouble with us is that we have far more opinion than we have information. And what we can start doing is gathering information before we rush to have an opinion. I think that is what we need to do.

QUESTION

You have talked about secularism and the foundation of India being based on pluralism. Based on that I know there are many groups, multi-religious groups in India. Do you think the issue is only restricted to Hindus and Muslims-or are there Christians, Buddhists, Jews and others-how are the relationships in those communities? Why is it is it only that the Hindus and Muslims periodically resort to this sort of communal conflict and violence?

SHABANA AZMI

No, there is a targeted attack against minorities. If you see what was happening in Gujurat, then it is not just Muslims. It was really what happened with the Christians in Gujurat as part of the laboratory tests. But they speak of a critical mass-the Muslims are so large in number in India-they are the second largest population in the whole world, more than in all of Pakistan. That is why this conflict keeps happening…because history is constantly used over and over again…with the Muslim particularly. You see that there is a distortion in the telling of how the Muslim “invaders” came in; there is a distortion of how they came, they looted and they went away. When actually the truth is that there was a great contribution from them as well. But you see it is because of their number I think that it becomes like that.

QUESTION

Could you talk a little bit about what Indian universities and schools are doing to foster a secular Indian identity-what kind of role, if any, they are playing in this movement?

SHABANA AZMI

At the moment that is in real danger because a serious attempt has been made to communalize education. There is a serious attempt being made to rewrite history. And that is really the long-term danger-that on the one hand we have a constitution that is committed to secularism and on the other hand we are using institutions to communalize that. That is a very real danger that is happening in India with the BJB-led government.